Friday, August 05, 2016

DBB meets Dolores Hitchens

I first read Dolores Hitchens while preparing for a panel I moderated at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, the first of my Beyond Chandler and Hammett sessions focusing on lesser-known crime writers from the middle of the twentieth century. Hitchens will be among the subject of this year's version of the panel at Bouchercon 2016 in New Orleans next month, and this pre-Long Breach post captures nicely why I like these panels so much: I get to read, experience, and come to grips with authors new to me.
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A friend sent along Dolores Hitchens' 1955 novel Sleep With Strangers because of its setting in Long Beach, site of Bouchercon 2014. Indeed, the book is even more evocative of its setting than is that other great Long Beach crime novel, Paul Cain's Fast One.

Hitchens is new to me, so naturally I start out thinking of her in terms of other crime writers her work evokes, and those writers are two of the best.  Hitchens' compassion for characters who lead marginal existences reminds me of David Goodis, particularly The Street on the Corner [At this late date, I don't remember if I meant The Blonde on the Street Corner or The Street of No Return. The latter, I suspect.] and Cassidy's Girl, and her dissection of family life in California brings to mind The Big Sleep. (Ed Gorman's discussion of Sleeps With Strangers invokes Ross Macdonald. I've never warmed to Macdonald, but I suspect that what Gorman sees as Macdonaldish is what I see as Chandlerlike. In any case, that's another illustrious name associated with Hitchens.)

The novel's opening is an atmospheric, moody, tension-filled inversion of the usual scene in which a P.I. meets a client, and it hooked me on Hitchens right away. (The client is named Kay Wanderley.  "Wonderly," of course, is the name Brigid O'Shaughnessy uses when she first calls on Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Homage? Coincidence? Either way, it's more good fictional company for Dolores Hitchens.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2014, 2016

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10 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Sounds right up my alley.

August 31, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

She had a real touch for atmosphere (as, by the way, did Craig Rice, whom I wrote about recently). Are you familiar enough with Long Beach to be able to recognize Hitchens' descriptions (some of them are of prominent topographic features. Much of the action happens on Signal Hill, for example.)

August 31, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I am not all that familiar with Long Beach--or Signal Hill for that matter, except its history. Although I have been on the Queen Mary, long, long ago.

We tried to go to Long Beach for dinner a couple of weeks ago when I was down to see my aunt, but somehow we ended up at Fashion Island instead.

August 31, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't know there was such a hing as Fashion Island. I like the name, but I'm not sure I;d fit in there.

Signal Hill is where Raymond Chandler worked in the oil business, and oil figures prominently in Sleep With Strangers.

August 31, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

I only knew there was such a thing because my former brother in law had a store there. It's very upscale, apparently, but the place we ate that night was just normal. It was on the fringe of the center, so I remain unenlightened.

September 01, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hitchens' Long Beach has normal, run-down, and what we would call upscale. She has quick descriptions of some of the shops, too. This will give sometign to look out for in November.

September 01, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yup.

September 01, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The upcoming Library of America collections of American woman crime writers from the 1940s and '50s will include at least one novel by Hitchens. If it's Sleeps WIth Strangers, it and Bouchercon could plant Long Beach more firmly in the minds of crime fans and distinguish somewhat from Los Angeles.

September 01, 2014  
Blogger Janet Rudolph said...

I've read Dolores Hitchens over the years, but I don't remember this one. Thanks for posting and reviewing.. perfect for Bouchercon! Maybe she should be Ghost of Honor? if there were one. Will find it and order..if I don't have it here.

September 01, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, there are U.S. guests of honor, international guests of honor, and fan guests of honor, so why not an out-of-the-past guest of honor? I will suggest this to programmers of future Bouchersons.

September 01, 2014  

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